Category Archives: Crown Publishers

Review: Until You’re Mine by Samantha Hayes

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; First Edition edition (April 15, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • Source: Publisher

Claudia Morgan-Brown finally has the life she’s dreamed of. She’s pregnant with her first child, her incredibly caring and supportive husband, James, by her side.  Unfortunately, James’ career as a naval officer requires him to travel quite a bit, leaving Claudia alone to manage the household and her twin step-sons.  After a long history of miscarriages, Claudia knows it is a miracle that her pregnancy has advanced so far. At eight months, she’s still working full-time as a social worker. In James’ absence, she’s going to need help with the twins and the new baby.

When they interview Zoe, she seems like she’s a perfect match. She bonds quickly with the boys and takes a considerable amount of strain off of Claudia. With Zoe as a live-in nanny, she can dedicate more time to taking care of herself and her unborn baby. Yet something seems off about Zoe and Claudia begins questioning her decision to bring this woman into her home.

Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Lorraine Fisher is investigating a horrifying murder: a pregnant woman was attacked, her baby forcibly removed from her body. Unfortunately, neither mother nor child survived the attack. When another woman is victimized becomes obvious that someone is targeting pregnant women. Lorraine must bring the perpetrator to justice before anyone else is hurt.

The reader is granted a fairly open look at each of the three women, each dealing with motherhood (or lack thereof) in a unique manner. The author reveals enough about each of them for the reader to form a conclusion about each of them as characters, yet holding back just enough to leave one questioning what to believe.

That inkling that not is all as it seems pays off, for near the end there is a complete and total “WTAF” moment that will certainly stun and throw readers for a complete loop. Personally, I had to go back and reread this section of the novel several times before I actually believed it happened. I was certain I’d uncovered an error in editing…but I didn’t. I don’t want to reveal too much, but it’s a scene that will definitely leave you questioning everything you read up to that point. And the epilogue!! I stated that I didn’t want to reveal too much, but be forewarned. The epilogue gave me chills that raced to my very core, definitely the strongest case of the heebie-jeebies I’ve experienced in some time (and I read a lot of dark and twisty stuff)!

At it’s core, Until You’re Mine is a twisty, terrifying, and captivating read. I devoured this book in one sitting. Although the subject matter is quite disturbing in some scenes, the author does so to inform the reader of the magnitude of the attacks and the sheer evil behind the attacker, not to shock and awe the readers. The tension she creates is astounding; I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough! If you are looking for a twisty, psychological thriller, this is, without a doubt, the book for you. Highly, highly recommended.

FemmeFatale

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (February 11, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0804139024
  • Source: Publisher

Mark Watney is one of several astronauts making up the crew of the Ares 3 mission to Mars. Just days into their mission, the Acidalia region is hit by a dust storm. Believed to be killed during the storm, Mark is left…alone…on Mars.  He has the food rations that would have lasted the crew two months but it’s going to take much longer for NASA to realize he is still alive…and to come up with a means of rescuing him.  Watney uses his ingenuity to come up with means to survive until help arrives (including growing quite the impressive harvest of potatoes). Will all this ingenuity be enough for Watney to survive the harsh and unforgiving Mars terrain, repeatedly hammered with obstacles to test his survival (and his sanity)?

The Martian is a truly tremendous novel, one of the best I have read in some time. It reads like a nonfiction narrative of a survival story, for Weir’s knowledge of the subject matter is quite vast and impressive. While there is a great deal of technical and scientific jargon, rather than bogging the reader down I think it added a level of believability that will allow readers to grasp the severity and intensity of Watney’s survival.  Personally, I found myself devouring the novel, hungry to learn what next great feat Watney overcame.

The character Weir builds in Watney is outstanding. Though it’s obvious he is terrified about his fate, he keeps a level head on him, using quite a bit of sarcastic humor that lightened up an already dark and devastating storyline.  Watney’s human spirit was tremendous. One can’t help but root for him and pray for his safe return to Earth. I found myself forgetting that he is a fictional character, assuming that I can look up his name online or turn on the news to hear about his death-defying saga. At the end, I did find myself missing him quite a bit. I plan on checking out the audio book soon, desperate to reunite with this character.

You don’t have to be a fan of science fiction to appreciate this novel.  It’s a truly intense analysis of human character and survival, dozens of unknowns on such an unknown planet. This is a novel people will be raving about, I guarantee. Months after reading it, I countinue to rave about it (including it as  my monthly recommendation for Bloggers Recommend).  Highly, highly recommended.

Review: The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth Silver

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (June 11, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 038534743X
  • Source: Publisher

Ten years ago, accused of first-degree murder, Noa P. Singleton not once spoke up in her own defense. Now, just six months away from her execution date, Noa is visited by Marlene Dixon, a powerful Philadelphia lawyer and the mother of the young woman Noa was convicted of killing.  Marlene’s view of the death penalty has changed; she is now willing to work to commute Noa’s sentence to life in prison if Noa will do just one thing: share what happened that fateful day.

Up until this point, Noa has refused to share her story. She shares a secret with Marlene, one that ties them both to the murder. Noa feels that Marlene doesn’t deserve the salvation and closure that she so desperately demands.

The author leads the reader through the past revealing Noa’s tumultuous life, raised by her selfish, self-absorbed mother. It isn’t until she’s an adult that Noa ever meets her father.  As the pages turn and the reader learns more about Noa’s life, she develops into quite the sympathetic character. Surprisingly sane despite spending the last decade in prison, the extent of Noa’s intense desire to take the blame for this young woman’s death is truly heartbreaking.

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton is an intense psychological thriller filled to the brim with twists and turns. While the reader knows immediately that Noa is imprisoned, it isn’t until much later in the novel that the crime she is convicted for is revealed.  Learning of Noa’s less than healthy upbringing, readers will want to sympathize with her, but since she is a convicted killer I found myself struggling with who to trust. Both Noa, given her crime, and Marlene, given her emotional connection to the crime, are incredibly unreliable characters.  Through Noa’s flashbacks and Marlene’s letters to her dead daughter, we are slowly given access to the motivations and feelings exhibited by each of these characters. The parallel narratives battle with one another, challenging the reader to come to his/her determination about the culpability and believability of each of the characters.

Silver’s knowledge of the justice system is quite profound. She has her own way of criticizing our current system, particularly on the side of the defendant. Noa had no one to speak up for her when she refused to do it herself, no one to examine the procedures and practices enforced both before and during her trial. Had someone been her advocate, done a little digging around into the crime itself, it is quite possible she wouldn’t be preparing for her own execution.

I found it quite shocking to read that this is Silver’s first novel. Her talent at teasing the reader, revealing information bit by bit and thereby increasing the intensity page by page, seems like it would come from a veteran writer. This skill, and the fact that I was kept guessing up until the very end, has me applauding for this author’s skilled talent.

A completely captivating, intellectually stimulating psychological thriller, The Execution of Noa P. Singleton is the perfect evidence to indicate that this is an author to watch. Highly, highly recommended!

About the author:

Silver, a writer, attorney, and former English teacher, is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, the MA Program in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia in England, and Temple University Beasley School of Law. She studied capital punishment with some of the nation’s leading anti-death penalty attorneys at the University of Texas School of Law at Austin, where she worked on a clemency petition, and later worked as a Judicial Clerk for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. As part of the clemency investigation, she visited death row, interviewed inmates and met with victim family members. While exploring the provocative and polarizing issues of the death penalty, Silver wanted to present both sides of the issue, and thus her novel was born. Silver’s taut writing, which has brought recognition from Glimmer Train, funding from the NEA, and writing residencies in Spain and France, carries the reader forward to the story’s shocking end.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to participate in this tour. Please be sure to check out the other stops in this tour; I guarantee this book will have people talking!

Frightful Friday: Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week. This week’s featured title is Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines:

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway; Reprint edition (February 26, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0804136572
  • Source: Publisher (egalley)

A zombie outbreak has devastated the Earth. A year later, in Los Angeles, a band of superheroes attempts to protect survivors sheltered in what remains of Hollywood. As if fighting zombies, known as exes (ex-humans), wasn’t enough, the heroes are also forced to battle a rabid street gang known as the Seventeens over remaining supplies.

Told in alternating chapters of “Then” and “Now,” Clines successfully executes a pretty tremendous feat of combining two very different worlds. The heroes he creates are unique, ranging from a human electric current (Zzap) to a man who cannot die yet can heal others (The Regenerator). Each of these individuals have only recently discovered their powers, in most cases many just woke up with these extremely unique talents. Each of the chapters covers the viewpoint of these heroes, allowing readers to both piece together the events that lead to this devastation as well as get a unique viewpoint with each chapter.

It would be easy for a novel like this to crash and burn, but Clines is such a skilled writer (and obvious fan of comic book heroes) that he pulls it off successfully. Down to the origin, physiology and behavior of the zombies/exes, Clines creates a wholly unique spin on a subject matter (zombies) that seems to be exploding lately.

What makes this such a stand-out novel is the cross-over appeal, both fans of comic/super heroes as well as fans of zombie fiction clambering over one another to get their hands on this truly tremendous title.  I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy of the next book, Ex-Patriots.

 

Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

  • Format: Audiobook
  • Listening Length: 15 hour(s) and 46 min.
  • Publisher: Random House Audio (August 16, 2011)
  • Source: Personal Copy

In the not to distant future, the world is a pretty horrible place.  Many of the planet’s natural resources have been depleted, no replacement in sight. In order to escape from the bleak world in which they live, people retreat to the Oasis, a virtual world in which you can assume any identity, live any life. If you have enough credits, that is.

Wade Watts is one of these individuals. In high-school, he spends most of his days in the Oasis.  He’s enrolled in an Oasis virtual school, hangs out with his one virtual friend, H, at every waking moment.  Wade’s avatar’s name is Parzival, a take off of Percival the Knight. Like many of his counterparts, known as gunters (short for egg hunters), Wade is desperate to find the egg hidden within the Oasis, the key left behind by Oasis-creator James Halliday, when he did. The individual who finds the egg inherits all of Halliday’s money, as well as the Oasis itself.

Obviously, this isn’t an easy task. Halliday hides clues at the end of puzzles, only true gunters able to get even close. The key to solving the puzzle lies within Halliday’s life itself.  As a youth, he too was unable to have a healthy relationship with the real world. He retreated to video games and popular 80s television shows and movies rather than attempting to socialize with other humans.  To succeed in the hunt for the egg one must immerse themselves in 80’s pop culture.

It’s been years since any progress has been made in the hunt.  Then one day, Wade stumbles across the first puzzle and the hunt is reinvigorated.  Throughout his trek Wade forms friendships with other gunters on the same mission, including Artemis. He’s had a crush on her for some time, obsessively reading her blog posts and really anything she posts online.

The hunt becomes more than just a game when Wade is forced to go head-to-head with IOI, a corporation out to take control of the Oasis for its own monetary gain. Wade is forced to take unimaginable risks, including threatening the demise of his avatar and his own life itself.  In order to safe himself, and ultimately the world itself, Wade must immerse himself into the world of the Oasis, ignoring all the potential risks and consequences.

Here is the hard part: how can I accurately portray how much I loved this book without sounding like a complete and total geek? Ok, given the whole feel of this book I don’t think this is really an issue. Geek power is definitely a feeling I get from this book.  That said, don’t let the subject matter fool you into believing you must be a gamer or obsessed with 80s pop culture to appreciate this book. Readers with minimal knowledge of video games, television shows and movies from this era will be able to appreciate the awesomeoness that is Ready, Player One.

I was literally blasted back to my childhood with all the references to television shows (Family Ties!) , video games (Pac-Man!) and movies (Monty Python) that I adored as a child. This is a book that I will keep forever, read multiple times and on a frequent basis. It has clearly earned a spot on my favorite books of the year list; dare I say it tops it?  I know this is probably redundant but I feel the need to state it: Highly Highly Recommended!

A note on the audio production:

Could they have picked a better narrator for this book than Wil Wheaton? I think not! I find it humorous that his name is actually referenced in the book.  Wil’s character in Star Trek is a key part of our pop culture and I therefore found it quite fitting that he be cast as narrator. He does a tremendous job; his voice, inflections, pacing, etc. are all spot on.  Dare I say this is a book that should be listened to rather than read due purely to the narrator? I leave it up to you to decide, but I guarantee you will love it!

 

Review: Centuries of June by Keith Donohue

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (May 31, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0307450287
  • Source: Publisher
  •  

    Jack awakens on his bathroom floor, amid all the grit and grime found on the average bathroom floor.  Unsure of how he got there, he soon discovers a decent-sized hole in the back of his head, his body covered in blood. He assumes he slipped on the floor, or even more likely, tripped over his cat, Harpo, striking his head on the sink or the bathtub.

    Before he can remove himself from the bathroom, Jack is joined by an elderly gentleman, initally assuming it is his father. The man asks him to recollect what happened the evening before. The old man states that he saw eight sets of feet in Jack’s bed.  But before Jack can look for himself, a woman appears in his bathroom.

    Her name is Dollly and she begins telling Jack & the old man a story about a young Native American woman, Yeikoo.shk, who marries a man that can transform into a bear.  Several woman follow Dolly’s lead, each telling a story woven from folklore, mythology, and history, including the Salem witch trials. One-by-one, each of the eight women his bed reveal a story, all linking to a similar theme.  Jack sees a familiar resemblance in each of the women, but it isn’t until the last woman appears that the really meaning behind their visits are revealed.  Each woman is unique, each wielding a different weapon, attempting to kill Jack.

    Set quite literally on the floor of Jack’s bathroom, Centuries of June takes the reader on an extremely detailed journey through history, each woman is a vehicle for another story.  Their stories border on the impossible & unbelievable, but all are about women who face horrible wrongs or betrayal, at the hands of men. Donohue tells each of their stories in a unique way I’ve never witnessed in fiction.

    While it carries the same mythical and fantastical overtone as Donohue’s other books, Centuries of June is a tremendously bold move in my opinion. Donohue intricately weaves together multiple genres, including mystical realism and suspense, genres not normally molded together. The result: a tremendous piece of literary fiction.  Centuries of June isn’t a book that lays everything out at face-value. Instead, the reader must delve into the text, truly embrace the writing, before truly getting to the root of the story. Readers who want everything laid out for them in black & white won’t be thrilled with this method, but those who dare to take the plunge will reap the benefits!

    Highly, highly recommended!

    Be sure to check out Keith on his website, on Facebook, and on Twitter!

    Check out the hilarious video Donohue created, attempting to show ways to mask the “controversial” cover of Centuries of June:

    Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to participate in this tour! Be sure to check out the other stops on this tour:

    Monday, June 20th:  The Whimsical Cottage
    Thursday, June 23rd:  Reflections of a Bookaholic
    Monday, June 27th:  In the Next Room
    Wednesday, June 29th:  Simply Stacie
    Tuesday, July 5th:  Booksnob
    Thursday, July 7th:  Unabridged Chick
    Monday, July 11th:  Books Distilled
    Tuesday, July 12th:  S. Krishna’s Books
    Wednesday, July 13th:  Man of La Book
    Thursday,  July 14th:  Books Like Breathing
    Friday, July 15th:  Jen’s Book Thoughts
    Monday, July 18th:  A Chick Who Reads
    Tuesday, July 19th:  Drey’s Library
    Wednesday, July 20th:  Fyrefly’s Book Blog
    Thursday, July 21st:  Wordsmithonia
    Friday, July 22nd:  Sara’s Organized Chaos
    Monday, July 25th:  Bloggin’ ’bout Books

    Review: The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen

    Hardcover: 304 pages
    Publisher: Crown (April 12, 2011)
    ISBN-10: 0307717968
    Source: Publisher 

    Milly and Twiss are two spinster sisters who live in the small Wisconsin town of Spring Green, Wisconsin. They are known by locals as “the bird sisters” due to their habit of rescuing injured birds.

    As children, Twiss & Milly were happy, fun-loving sisters with ambition & hope, as many children do.  However, the summer of 1947 forever changes their future and their hope for happiness. Their cousin Bett arrives, staying with the family while her own goes through a tumultous situation.

    The Bird Sisters is told in alternating chapters, facillating between the past & that telling summer of 1947.  The sisters didn’t have a perfect childhood, not by far.  Their parents’ marriage was a troubled one: their father was a former golf pro, unable to get over the fact that his perfect swing is forever gone; their mother has regret for the decisions she’s made. Their father loved golf more than anything, including their family, “their mother couldn’t forgive their father for wanting a lifestyle more than he wanted her.”

    I wish I could simply tell you to run out and buy this book, that you should just trust my opinion without any backing.  Realizing that is unfair and probably unrealistic, I’ll go into greater detail as to why you must buy this book.

    The characters, including Twiss, Milly, and their parents, are very much like the injured birds that the sisters rescue in their adulthood. They each lose hope, the motivation to try, to become something:

    “Once a bird has lost his ability to fly, not much esle could be done in the way of mending him.  Losing a wing was a little like losing a leg and the freedom of movement, of spirit, it granted you; most people could live without the former but the latter.”

    The reader knows early on the fate of the Bird Sisters. While reading, we journey back with the sisters and discover the path they take to reach this outcome.  The love of family is integral in this novel; the sisters could very well have lead successful and more fruitful lives if they parted ways. 

    Milly selflessly sacrificed her future to save the fate of her family.  Twiss often thought about leaving her sister; she had hopes of seeing Machu Picchu and the Continental Divide.  But since Milly sacrificed so much that summer, she Twiss couldn’t possibly abandon her:

    “She’d grow up with Milly and grow old with her, and then one day, if time had any kindness, she’d die with her.  Leaving Milly alone would’ve been like leaving an injured bird in the middle of the road.”

    Twiss had her own share of issues as a child. She seemed to forever be in doubt of her parents love for her, of her place in this world. She constantly had battles with her mother, ending with Twiss spouting hurtful & painful words. As an adult, however, she eventually realized that the reason she and her mother butt heads so much was due to their similarities.

    The Bird Sisters is a stunning debut; a book that can’t be rushed or skimmed through. To truly appreciate the characters, the story, you must savor this book.  It will make you cry out in both anger and sadness.  Several parts quite literally took my breath away, while others had me shouting expletives.  Take the time to get to know the Bird Sisters; I guarantee you won’t regret it. Highly, highly recommended.

    Review: The Informationist by Taylor Stevens

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (March 8, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0307717097
  • Source: Third party

  • It’s been nine years since Vanessa “Michael” Munroe escaped Cameroon at the young age of fifteen.  She now serves as an “informationist”, and individual who visits developing country & obtains information to assist large corporations.

    Her lastest client is Richard Burbank, a Houston oilman who is searching for his missing step-daughter, Emily.  Emily was eighteen years old when she disappeared four years ago during a vacation to west central Africa. Burbank has paid countless thousands of dollars to private investigators over the years but they’ve all return empty-handed.  He wants some proof that Emily is still alive. While this sort of job isn’t her typical fare, Munroe accepts the offer & reluctantly returns to Africa.  Her past in Africa wasn’t exactly a pleasant one.

    Munroe travels to Africa, accompanied by Miles Bradford, a mercenary with close ties to the Burbank family. It’s not long after her return that Munroe meets up with her past, including a long-lost friend/now gunrunner.  Despite the danger Munroe must face, she feels a connection to this lost girl and is willing to put her own life in danger in order to find her.

    The Informationist is an absolutely stunning debut, written by an incredibly brave woman with her own past.  Taylor Stevens was raised in a religious cult, referred to then as the  Children of God, now known as the Family International. She traveled the world with this organization before breaking free.  This book is dedicated as follows: “To my fellow childhood survivors-you know who you are.”

    While reading, the comparisons between Taylor & the main character, Munroe, were quite evident. Both women, incredibly strong, broke free of a painful childhood, becoming ever-stronger by doing so.

    Munroe is quite the woman.  She’s been burned (quite possibly literally!) many times in the past.  She’s hesitant to open herself up yet she survives on discovering the secrets of others.  She’s strong, both mentally and physically.  She knows her way around guns & most anything that can be considered a deadly weapon.  As the storyline unfolds, so does Munroe’s history. We learn of the abuse she received & her finally escape.  We see the motives & reasoning behind the woman she is now. Taylor’s characterization & depth into not only Munroe but the secondary characters as well shows this debut authors talent not only as an author but a perceptive individual as well.

    The level in which Taylor describes the setting of Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea quite literally transports the reader into this unfamiliar world.  I appreciated that this setting was unique, not one often visited in the thriller-writing world. My lack of familiarity about this area of the world did not hamper my reading experience in any manner; Taylor’s detailed descriptions of both the physcial, as well as the “social”, setting of this area world allowed me to read with ease.

    Even before the release nearly a week ago, the media has compared The Informationist to the widely-popular Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series by Stieg Larsson. While both books have strong female characters with a talent of hunting down information, the comparison ends there. Taylor Stevens’ The Informationist can stand it’s own!  A completely unique thriller, reportedly the first book in a series.  You can’t afford to miss out on this talent!

    Note: I’d be remiss not to mention the few graphic scenes, not unexpected or unneccesary given the subject of this novel.